Asian Chemical Connections
Organic compounds are materials that contain carbon and hydrogen and usually other elements such as nitrogen, oxygen and halogens. Hydrocarbons only contain carbon and hydrogen while organic compounds with other functional groups include alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, ethers, esters, etc.
Petrochemicals are primarily organic chemicals made from hydrocarbon raw materials sourced from crude oil, natural gas or coal. Many petrochemicals are processed into polymers for use in plastics, resins, fibres, rubbers (elastomers) and coatings. Petrochemicals are also used to make a wide range of end-use products such as detergents, adhesives, solvents, plasticizers, lubricants, etc.
In the manufacture of petrochemicals, a number of building block chemicals are first produced. They include three olefins – ethylene, propylene and butadiene – and three aromatics – benzene, toluene and xylenes. By reacting these building block chemicals with each other and other chemicals, a large number of petrochemical intermediates and polymers can be made.
The main use of ethylene is to make polyethylene which is used to fabricate a number of plastic items and films. Ethylene is also used to make ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride (EDC)/vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) for polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ethyl benzene and styrene, and many other intermediates.
Polypropylene, propylene’s largest derivative, is a versatile polymer that can be moulded into products, be made into fibres and film, and extruded into pipes. Chemicals produced from propylene include acrylonitrile (ACN), propylene oxide and glycol, isopropanol (IPA), 2-ethyl hexanol (2-EH) and acrylic acid.
Butadiene is primarily consumed in the production of synthetic rubbers (elastomers) such as styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) and polybutadiene (BR) rubber with their main application in tyre and tyre products. Other outlets for butadiene include acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and styrene butadiene (SB) latexes.
The largest benzene derivative is styrene which is used to make polystyrene as well as a number of copolymers. Cumene, which is used to make phenol and acetone, is the second largest outlet for benzene which is also used to make cyclohexane, nitrobenzene and alkylbenzene.
Toluene is used in solvent applications and is consumed in the manufacture of toluene diisocyanate (TDI) which is used in polyurethane foams. A major use of toluene is to make benzene and xylenes using a number of technologies.
Around 98% of paraxylene demand comes from the polyester chain via one of its intermediates, purified terephthalic acid (PTA) or dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). Orthoxylene is consumed mainly in the manufacture of phthalic anhydride (PA), which is used to make phthalate plasticisers, unsaturated polyesters resins and alkyd resins.
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